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The Avett Brothers - Craftsmen at work
on 13 September 2012
The days of the Avett Brothers coming across as some sort of newgrass country punk band are long behind them. Their last album "I and love and you" was a huge hit in the States and was produced by Rick Rubin whose impeccable track record with artists like Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Neil Diamond and a host of other bands sees him as one of the most recognisable big beards in American music. The Avett's new album essentially picks up where the brothers from Concord, North Carolina left off in 2010. This is great news for those who love the reflective heart wrenching alt country songwriting side of the band, perhaps less good news for those who hark back to the raucousness of early albums like "Mignonette". Progression however is the name of the game and once again "Carpenter" is an album that screams out for a larger UK audience for a band that can literally blow away all comers with their explosive live act.
Standout tracks here include the opening track "The once and future carpenter" which is a gorgeous travelling road ballad full of lifting melodies, soaring vocals from the brothers and building crescendos which make for a sterling start to a very fine set of songs. The plaintive lament "Winter in my heart" does suffer slightly on the lyric front but its good song that builds to a fine climax. Much better however is another in the series of "Pretty Girl" songs which started back in 2002 with "Pretty Girl From Matthews". Here it is "Pretty girl from Michigan" and clearly whoever said female was, she struck an inspirational chord with the brothers who have produced one of their best ever old style rock 'n' roll ballads in this great tune. Another Avett's mainstay is a passing nod to the early Beatles and it comes in the form of "I never knew" with superb harmonies providing the underpinning driving force. Best of all is "February Seven" and effortless country heartbreak love song which speaks of "A wound across my memory/That no amount of stitches would repair". It will no doubt generate huge accompanying audience participation when played live. Irritatingly the penultimate song "Paul Newman versus the demons" seems like the albums token rocker and largely serves to disrupt the end of the album. It may improve on repeated listens but for now it jars rather than flows. Far more preferable is "Down with the shine" with a nicely picked banjo in the background and the final song "Life" a big reflective ballad to round off proceedings with a considerable emotional punch.
Check some of the reviews on the American Amazon site and some of the bands supporters are berating the fact that Rubin has again shaved off some of the rough edges of the Avett's and underplayed their former banjo fuelled high energy. There is is something in this but clearly the brothers have been keen to emphasise their songwriting credentials in recent albums and it would be a pretty poor show if they constantly rehashed "Country Was" over and over again. That said they do need to think about what next after "Rubin" who has certainly brought a more cohesive and polished sound to the band. For now "Carpenter" is an album made for the fall, brimming full of introspective meditative ballads that seem to grow in character and stature on every listen. This reviewer will resist the urge to utilise some form of carpentry metaphor to finish suffice it to say that the Avetts new album is a solid construction fashioned from ancient materials and shows real craftsmen at work. Sorry couldn't resist.